Massimo Fusillo

4E Transcoding Opera and Musical Theatre
Session 4 – July 2, 15:30 – 17:30

Sublime Voices, Tragic Identifications. On Two Opera Re-enactments in cinema

After a theoretical introduction on operatic transcodification, the paper deals first with two famous representations of a topical scene, a character who attends opera for the first time (Flaubert’s Madame Bovary; Gerry Mulligan’s Pretty Woman), which highlight emotional involvement and empathy as key components. This is idea background to analyze a very specific kind of cinematic transcodification of opera, which I call «tragic re-enactment»: a character re-lives and performs, in an extremely personal way, an opera scene which we hear in the soundtrack. In the two case studies (Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia and David Cronenberg’s M. Butterfly), a male character strongly identifies with a female role and voice, bringing together issues of gender, aesthetic response, and empathic strategies. The opera scene in Philadelphia is a splendid microcosm which enlightens the entire movie, but remains isolated as an autonomous episode. On the contrary, David Cronenberg’s M. Butterfly (1993) can be defined as a movie on opera transcodification, especially if we truly exploit the multilayered nature of this term, which involves expressive, cultural, and political levels.


Massimo Fusillo is Professor of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature at the University of L’Aquila (Italy), where he is Coordinator of the PhD Program on Literatures Arts Media: The Transcodification, and President of the Centre of Research on Transcodification. He is also Chair of the Research Committee on Literatures Arts Media (CLAM) and member of the Research Committee on Comparative History of Literatures in European Languages (CHLEL) of the International Association of Comparative Literature (ICLA); and member of the Academia Europaea. Among his recent publications: The Fetish. Literature, cinema, visuality, Bloomsbury, 2017; Video Art Facing Wagner, in M. Fusillo – M. Grishakova (eds.), The Gesamtkunstwerk as a Synergy of the Arts. New Comparative Poetics, Bruxelles, Peter Lang, 2021, pp. 171-182; Negative Empathy, Catharsis, Fear: a Transmedial Itinerary, in R. Gasperoni Gerina e F. Milano (eds), Critica delle emozioni, Firenze, Franco Cesati, 2020, pp. 27-44.